Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory. - George S. Patton
An expedition has many elements of risk attached to it, some known and many unknown, and braving challenges is integral to it. Some challenges could be life threatening, some a matter of hearsay and many are simply products of the fear of the unknown. Putting together information from people who have done the routes in the past and collating as much information as possible from published sources is a matter of prudent detail. Therefore, when you attempt something unique and unprecedented you would be, by and large, beating a new path. The two international expeditions to London and Singapore and three of the five Indian expeditions I have undertaken so far fall into the category of ‘being done for the first time’. Hence, there is very little data to fall back on and much less that make cogent sense.
Planning the route and making provisions for night halts is one of the first challenges that I come across with every expedition. As long as the attempt is better or set a new Limca Record the route is made available by the company. Then it is a matter of combining experience and gathered information to decide on where to pitch the night camp. Even after elaborate planning is done one should anticipate last minute changes. I experienced that on the Coast-to-Coast and East-West expeditions when plans had to be recast almost on an hourly basis. So also was the case during the South East Asian Odyssey when refusal of Vietnamese Customs to permit the car into the country had me scrambling to make changes in the itinerary in a foreign country. This could be a show stopper and extremely challenging in the normal case. However, visa on arrival in many of the South East Asian nations for Indian nationals are a boon under such circumstances when rerouting has to be done.
Understanding and taking care of requisite documentation is another area that requires close attention. Carnet de Passages en Douane (CPD) is a crucial document that facilitates international transportation of a vehicle. Obtaining it is cumbersome and financially difficult in India. It is made even more with processes varying between chapters of the Automobile Associations in India. Getting the carnet stamped and officially validated across borders and varying procedural formalities could make hair stand on its end. I had an issue at the Thai-Lao border when the Thai immigration insisted that I was in the country with the car illegally, as I had not obtained an immigration document for the car at the entry point into Thailand from Myanmar! That I had to part with a handsome amount as fine is quite another matter. But the attendant tension and stress are unbearable at times, especially when one is alone. For the Trans Himalayan Expedition I have to cross two international borders, those of Nepal and Bhutan. I have confirmed from friends and from the internet that short duration stays in these countries can be managed without a carnet. Permits have to be obtained. Similarly, travel through Arunachal Pradesh requires an Inner Line Permit. I have requested Seju Kuruvila, IPS, who was formerly Superintendent of Police in Tezu, the capital of Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh, to help me with this part of documentation.
Limca Book of Records has a strict code for documenting a Record Drive. One of them is to get physical certification at check points mentioned by it along the route. The Trans Himalayan Expedition will require 55 certifications on the laid down log sheet format from Jammu to Tezu! While by itself it is an enormous challenge, it is made more so by the time taken to do the same; when attempting a speed record every minute matters. Hence, it is all the more reason to ensure that credible digital recording is done to the extent that it is accepted by the authorities concerned. It will be useful to leverage known contacts who will help out with the documentation process.
Anticipating tough locations where assistance would be required is another area that requires close attention, especially when one is attempting an expedition in the hills, such as the Trans Himalayan. Weather reports coming in from various parts of the country such as Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and J&K were forbidding, to say the least. Washed off roads, broken down bridges, diverted routes, closed sections, swirling waters and many such reports fill newspapers these days. They are extremely worrying and could, at any point, turn out to be show stoppers. The earthquake in Nepal had been one such in the recent past. Even though information emanating from the country suggests that most roads are motorable now a series of aftershocks have kept the nation and its citizens on their toes since the April disaster. Very little is known about driving in Bhutan, except that in the recent past the roads have improved; night driving is not advised. Time taken to negotiate small stretches of 200 kms could be as high as 10 hours, I understand. Finding nourishment and camps in such terrain could be an issue. Unpredictable weather conditions have to be factored in during the monsoon season, when flash floods, cloud bursts and landslides accompany an adventurer and adds to the excitement. I have also prepared a list and spoken to friends and members of the network who could be of assistance in case of dire need. Sudhir Pratap Singh, an erstwhile railway colleague and now a senior IPS officer, has agreed to assist in J&K, where the latest issue is regarding the entry of private vehicles into Leh. The local taxi associations have been on the warpath citing threat to environment and livelihood. Sanjiv Garg, Chief Operations Manager of Northern Railway, has pitched in with railway accommodation in places like Chandigarh, Jammu, Manali, Shimla and Mussoorie. Mohan Bandaru, an erstwhile colleague in Container Corporation of India, has promised border facilitation and accommodation in Nepal. Seju Kuruvila, as mentioned earlier, has been approached for help in Arunachal Pradesh. The route in Arunachal Pradesh is challenging and calls for negotiating many water bodies and landslide prone locations. Emergency contacts and supplies may have to be leveraged at short notice.
Through all this, I have always experienced the ‘invisible hand’ that protects and cares. The omnipresent Guardian Angel, who appears in many forms and shapes, is what guides me in my travels, particularly when it comes to negotiating challenges. Knowing this and trusting fully in the intervention of the Guardian Angel, I welcome challenges. The fear of the unknown recedes into the background. Of greater help in keeping a calm and cool mind in trying circumstances is to understand that you are not indispensable. The Sun does not rise to see your face nor does the Moon complete its course to greet you.